Compiled for OzSportsHistory by Brian Membrey

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ADDED : February, 2019



1889 : The Cable House

The foundation stone of the cable house on the north-eastern corner of High and Martin streets  was laid on 10 May, 1889 by Sir William Clarke, M.L.C.  before a large collection of Northcote's finest and several Parliamentary representative , the celebration followed by a banquet at the home of the Company's Chairman of Directors, George Clauscen,  then residing at "Sunnyside", earlier known as Rucker's Mansion on the peak of the hill.

A  retrospective report  on the opening (The Age, 17 May, 1889) revealed the double-line track would extend some two-and-a-quarter miles, the engine and boiler house to be of brick, 53 feet by 143 feet (northern section) comprising two steam engines with a 24-inch diameter cylinder with a 48-inch stroke and each generating 350 horsepower provided by the Austral Otis Elevator and Engineering Company continually haul the cables., and the car shed of corrugated iron with a brick frontage of 40 by 143 feet, the two buildings contiguous, and "a number of offices" under construction.  

It estimated the total cost of the project  at £63,000 of which some £38,000 had been expended, and that based on current traffic the company would carry an average of 2,500 a day which would enable it to pay a dividend of 8 percent; a daily average of 1,350 was suggested as the minimum level required to pay all operating expenses.

The major parts of the project included the widening by ten feet on either side of the Merri Creek bridge  at a cost of £7,000, jointly born by the Tramway Company (£2,500), Northcote, Collingwood and Fitzroy Councils (£400 each), with the State Government agreeing to make up the balance. (Later reports suggested a figure of £6,303 with the contractor Mr. J. Kirkland).

The installation of the tramlines also required overdue widening of the section of High-street on the southern approach up Rucker's Hill and the associated construction of the brick retaining walls on either side (one later report suggest a cost of £11,000, with a legal dispute arising after the Company used wooden bricks rather than cement).

Later reports when the tramline was replaced in the mid-1950s suggest dynamiting was required to blast through volcanic rock just below the surface, again on the southern section, but also known to have hampered other building projects to the east and west of the hill, believed the last of a line of extinct volcanoes in the Great Dividing Range.

A report in the special edition of the Northcote Leader published 5 May, 1933 celebrating the Golden Jubilee of Northcote's proclamation as a Shire puts the total cost of the project at £77,998 (give or take a couple of shillings) - £35,028 for the permanent way cables, $23,003 for road construction, £4,933 for the engine house (the site sold in 2018 for $9 million), plant £8,633; land £3,849, and rolling stock £2,550.

Another report however when the line re-opened in 1901 suggested the cost was closer to £90,000 and jumped to £101,000 when the cost of the retaining wall along the Rucker's Hill section was factored in.

With the costs rapidly escalating, an extraordinary meeting was held in Melbourne on 3 July, 1889  to consider means of raising funds to complete the tramway where Clauscen advised it was thought undesirable at the present time to make further calls as the directors were advised that it would be impossible to float debentures on the London market except on a going concern.

Seven gentlemen  agreed to become guarantee to the bank for £35,000, which was the amount believe necessary to complete the work within the five months, by which time the company would be in a good position to place its debentures on the London market.  The guarantors included four of the directors, and the others were Sir William Clarke, Mr. Mark Moss , and Mr Charles Verso, the Mayor of Northcote and one of the partners selected to construct the roadway.

Other than co-operating in the widening of the Merri Creek bridge, the Northcote Borough Council's role was one of encouragement rather than practical involvement. Later in October, the Collingwood Council asked the co-operation of neighbouring shires in combining into a private company to construct a tramway from "Northcote" to St. Kilda - the route was not disclosed, but undoubtedly would have traversed Hoddle-street and Punt-road and thus really "Clifton Hill to St. Kilda". Northcote's response was that as no part of the tramway touched any part of the Borough, it could give no practical assistance,  "but would give the project their moral support".

Left :The laying of the memorial stone at the Engine House on the northern corner of Martin-street (from W. G. Swift's "A History of Northcote", 1928.

Right : The building circa 1980, operating for many, many years by Brown's Motors before being sold early 2018 to a Chinese consortium for around $9 million. The double gable over the doors strongly suggests this was both the cable house and the tram shed (near side).

Top left : Rucker's Mansion, later Clauscen's "Sunnyside Hall", circa late 1880s.  Later known as “The Alpines” prior to demolition in 1925.

Darebin Heritage article

Bottom left : George Christian Clauscen (circa 1830-1918) (originally Clausen) was a Danish-born furniture retailer who ran a chain of stores, including one in Smith Street that survived into the 20th century. He was also a Northcote councillor and Mayor of Fitzroy in 1886-87.

Right : A typical connection between the engine-house and the tramway (Sydney Mail, 4 May, 1889). Pulleys similar to that shown (about five feet in diameter) were at either end of the line to switch the flow of the cable to the opposite direction

 Darebin’s Transport : Tall Tales and True